Cambria & San Simeon top the county along the coast, just south of world famous Hearst Castle. San Simeon Acres, the service town just below San Simeon, has two frontage roads populated by hotels, restaurants, and bars. Cambria sits just south of San Simeon Acres and has vineyard tasting rooms, restaurants, and bars. Just south of Cambria and the terminus of Hwy 46 sits a small eclectic community of Harmony.
The following information is provided for you to make decisions about places to visit and entertainment while you are there. It is for informational purposes only and we may have missed some available businesses and things to do.
San Simeon is the small community originally purchased by Senator George Hearst, but William Randolph Hearst is credited with putting it on the map after donating land, wharf, and Hearst Castle to the state. It is the gateway to the coastal Highway One that was dedicated by Ladybird Johnson, first lady of President Johnson, as America’s first scenic highway. A commemoration sits at Bixby Creek Bridge north of here.
It is also just south of the Piedras Blancas Lighthouse and the small cove where majestic Elephant Seals have established a rookery and playground about 7 miles north. There are often docents and signs along the boardwalk explaining the rookery and animals. From there you can see the lighthouse, which can be toured with reservations. This can be accessed from the castle information center. The Coastal Discovery Center across from the entrance to Hearst Castle has many facets with free admission.
The area was settled by the Chumash Indian tribe back to prehistory until found by the Spanish in the mid 1700s. In the 1800s, Portuguese whalers built a wharf and settled there. After destruction, William Randolph Hearst rebuilt it to use it to import supplies to build Hearst Castle in honor of his mother. Later, in the 1950s a public pier was opened to the public with a campground at the base of it. Visit Sebastian’s General Store, which has existed there for decades, or rent kayaks at the state beach. You can also visit the tidepools, fish from the pier, watch migrating Monarch Butterflies, or go hiking.
San Simeon Acres is the small area just south of the castle area and houses the hotels and restaurants necessary for travelers and visitors to the castle to stay overnight. There are fewer than 500 residents in the greater San Simeon area to service the hospitality and tourist industry, but wages are not high enough to commute from Cambria or further south regularly unless you are working at the Castle. Even so, the average income can reach over $33,000 and rent is very affordable.
Over half the population is Hispanic, and fewer than 1/5 have an education above high school. It is busiest in the summer with the tourist season, but manages to keep busy during the off-season. If you plan to head north from here, I suggest you stop in for whatever supplies or rest break you might need. Perhaps enjoy a lunch before you proceed. You should be aware that prices on rooms and services go up in the summer due to tourist season. It is also hard to book a room at that time, so do it in advance.
Just north of San Simeon Acres is another campground with an area known for an unofficial naturist beach for sunbathing nude, so be careful if you visit the north end of the beach there. It is also important to note that nude sunbathing is not legal to do in this county. While driving north, watch along the hillsides for zebras, known to wander the ranch land and are related to the original escaped animals formerly housed at the now closed zoo at Hearst Castle.
Cambria is known for it’s towering Monterey Pine trees and artist community. There are restaurants, antique malls, bars, wine tasting, clothing and specialty shops, and a thriving tourist area for foot traffic. You will also find the Fresnel lens from the Piedras Blancas Lighthouse on display in it’s own little outbuilding near the Vet’s Hall. Moonstone drive is known for the jade and moonstone rocks found along the beach. The area is also known for undertow and erratic waves that could be dangerous if you are not careful when beach-combing.
You will find the northernmost grocery store here to reload your supplies and snacks before going north. It is also home to “Nitt Witt Ridge” home of “Captain Nitt Witt” as he was known when alive. He had been the garbage collector for the community and built his home out of materials he disposed of on his property as the local dump. It has been featured on national television and has been open for tours with reservations. You can drive by and see the stones, sticks, bottles, and cans used to build the front wall and entryway of his home.
There is even a pickleball club and courts that welcomes visitors. There are also several summer and year-round youth camps. You can drop off the kids and enjoy the time in Cambria. There is plenty of access to the beaches, but also many hiking and biking trails and parks. Be careful of poison oak. Leaves of three, let them be. Check out Clydesdale horses and go for trail rides and hayrides, as well as learn how to drive a wagon. There is also a mystery scavenger hunt for your smart phone. Enjoy live theater, art galleries, and the historical society.
There are at least 7 antique shops, more than a dozen galleries and studios, more than half a dozen clothing shops, and close to 2 dozen specialty and gift shops. The town has 3 main areas, known as Happy Hill (home to Nitwit Ridge), Lodge Hill, and Park Hill (with access to Shamel Park by Moonstone Drive). There are a little over 6,000 residents, but it is thought that Native Americans, the Chumash tribe, may have had as many as 30,000 people about 1,000 years before the Spanish.
Many mines were established in the area to mine Cinnabar, which renders quicksilver, or mercury. There has been some environmental impact from this process. An additional historical fact is that in 1941, a US tanker was sunk by a Japanese submarine, and the oldest church in the county is housed here as well. The chapel is worth a visit, as is the unique cemetery. Cambria was also a filming location for the movie “Arachnophobia” with Jeff Daniels and John Goodman. Shia LaBeouf hails from Cambria.
Median income is over $60,000 with only 4% unemployment. The primary industries are retail, accommodation and food service, and professional services, which is to be expected in a tourist area. The town is over 3/4 white and about 20% Hispanic. It is located just north of the end of Hwy 46, which is the gateway to the Paso Robles AVA and wineries.
Harmony is a quaint little village of very few families, a population of less than 20, and community owned. It has a little art community there, and has been known in the past for it’s dairy products. It was once the thriving capital of the dairy production for nearly half a century in this area. It is undergoing renovation and rebuilding, attracting food and artistry. It is worth a quick stop just to say that “you found Harmony in your travels”.
Visit all of our community pages: Paso Robles, Templeton, Atascadero & Santa Margarita, Cambria & San Simeon, Cayucos, Morro Bay, Los Osos & Baywood Park, San Luis Obispo & Avila Beach, Shell Beach, Pismo Beach, Grover Beach, Arroyo Grande, Oceano, Nipomo, Santa Maria Valley
Disclaimer: We have done our best to bring you current information on these communities. There may be inaccuracies or outdated information we have not accounted for. This data has been obtained from various sources we believe to be reliable but may not be faulty. We have no responsibility nor liability stemming from your use or reliance on this information.